Obama and History — Josh Marshall on what a legacy means to President Obama.
We all remember that week last month when the country seemed to be marching with history. The Court upheld the Affordable Care Act against what is likely its last serious legal challenge, effectively embedding it deeply into the structure of American social policy. The Court then (in what was unfortunately a weakly argued majority decision) made marriage equality the law of the land nationwide. Then on the heels of these events came the President’s speech (transcript here) in Charleston, South Carolina – actually a eulogy for Clementa Pinckney, one of the victims of the Emmanuel Church massacre on June 17 but in fact a commemoration and meditation on the meaning of the whole event. (James Fallows’ is one of the best appreciations and treatments of it.)
When I look at Obama I don’t see a President desperately trying to cram legacy achievements into the declining months of his presidency. I see achievements coming to fruition that were usually years in the making but often seemed errant or quixotic and uncertain in their outcome. This is what for many was so bracing about the end of June. This has been a long long seven years. What seemed like an uncertain list of achievements, long on promise but hacked apart by mid-term election reverses and Obama’s sometimes over-desire for accommodation, suddenly appeared closer to profound, like a novel or a play which seems scattered or unresolved until all the pieces fall into place, clearly planned all along, at the end.
Whatever you think of this Iran agreement, it is not only the product of years of work but is core to the foreign policy vision Obama brought with him to the presidency. It’s as core to the goals he entered the presidency with as anything that has happened in recent weeks. He has it in view; his political opponents will be very hard pressed to block him. And he is pushing ahead to get it done.
None of this is to say that there isn’t a clear and palpable change in the President’s affect and demeanor. His presidency is coming to an end and his range of action will diminish further as the presidential election moves to center stage next year. As the budget deficit has receded from public view, Obama’s fucks deficit has come to the forefront. After six and a half years in office, he may have a small stockpile of fucks left. But he has none left to give. He is increasingly indifferent to the complaints and anger of his political foes and focused on what he can do on his own or with reliable political supporters. You can see it too in the more frequent lean-in-on-the-lectern moments during press conferences and speeches. He’s truly out of fucks to give. But it’s more a product of focus on finishing aspects of his presidency in motion for years than of cramming at the end. For most of his supporters, this was the Obama they always wanted. And he’s giving it to them. What comes off to reporters as testiness is more like the indifference of someone who’s got work to do and is intent on doing it.
Scout’s Honor — Dale Russakoff in The New Yorker reconnects with the woman who played Scout in the film of To Kill a Mockingbird looks back at her role on and off the screen.
After playing Scout in the movie of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” in 1962, Mary Badham endured a rude homecoming when she returned to Birmingham, Alabama. Having just spent six months in California with her mother, living in a racially integrated apartment complex, she found herself suddenly an outsider back home. “The attitude was ‘Lord knows what she might’ve learned out there!’ ” Badham recalled the other day. “Some families, I’d been welcome in their homes, and after the film, I was no longer welcome.”
Like the adult Scout in Harper Lee’s newly published “Go Set a Watchman,” Badham left the South during the era of segregation, and returned to find that people she once considered unequivocally good in fact bore the markings of that evil system. In the case of Scout, as revealed with alarm by reviewers of “Watchman,” it’s her sainted father, Atticus, who emerges as an overt racist, inveighing against threats to segregation from the U.S. Supreme Court and local lawyers for the N.A.A.C.P. Badham similarly discovered a mean streak in family friends who didn’t tolerate her breaking of Southern white taboos. “I was ostracized and it was painful,” said the adult Badham.
This past Tuesday night, nine hundred people, a sellout crowd, came to hear Badham read from “Go Set a Watchman” and “To Kill a Mockingbird” at the 92nd Street Y. Harper Lee herself made New York City—specifically the Upper East Side neighborhood around the Y—her second home for more than fifty years. These were her fans, and they clearly had come looking for something to celebrate. When Badham was introduced, they whooped and cheered.
Badham, who was nine when she played the iconic six-year-old and is now sixty-two, was completely overcome. Today a furniture-restorer in rural Virginia, she clasped her hands, raised them in celebration, then took a bow, and finally laughed until she almost cried. She read a brief excerpt from “Mockingbird,” and the first chapter of “Watchman.” Her voice is slow and lilting, quintessentially Southern. Alternately funny and poignant, Badham’s channelling of Jean Louise Finch—in “Watchman,” she has mostly shed her famous nickname—elicited frequent laughter.
In the Q. & A. that followed, moderator Mary Murphy, the director of the documentary “Harper Lee: From Mockingbird to Watchman,” asked Badham if she was surprised by the evolution of Atticus. She was not. In the Alabama she knew, it was not unheard of for a white man like him to righteously defend a black man like Tom Robinson against an unjustified charge of rape, and at the same time believe, as Atticus says in “Watchman,” that black people were “backward,” not “ready” to exercise their full civil rights. She heard all that and much more growing up in Birmingham. We all did.
Could Florida Democrats Blow It Again? — David A. Graham in The Atlantic on the fight brewing for the Senate seat.
The road to a Democratic majority in the Senate is a narrow one, and it runs through Florida. Marco Rubio is running for president, so he can’t run for reelection, freeing up his seat—and in a swing state like Florida, with the more Democratic-friendly electorate of a presidential cycle, there’s a good chance Democrats can win.
If they have the right candidate, of course.
That’s where Alan Grayson comes in. Democrats have had a rough run in Florida recently. In 2010, their candidate was walloped in a three-way Senate race that Rubio won—Governor Charlie Crist ran as an independent after losing the Republican primary; Democrat Kendrick Meek finished a distant third. That same year, Alex Sink lost a close race for governor to Rick Scott. In early 2014, Sink lost a special election for the seat of deceased Representative C. W. “Bill” Young. In fall 2014, Crist—by now a Democrat—lost the governor’s race to Scott, even though the incumbent was strongly disliked.
The remedy, state and national Democrats believe, is Patrick Murphy, a young two-term representative who reached office after defeating Representative Allen West—as fiery and controversial a Republican as Grayson is a Democrat—in 2012. Murphy is a notably moderate Democrat (he was previously a Republican), but he’s a polished candidate who showed he could win in a closely divided district. Party leaders marked him for great things. Early polls show him leading the top Republican candidates.
Then Grayson announced his decision to run. He’s the famously (or infamously) loudmouthed U.S. representative from Orlando—the guy who, during the healthcare-reform debate said the Republican health plan was “Don’t get sick, and if you do get sick, die quickly.” Grayson has a long history of similarly inflammatory or hotheaded comments, which he says is evidence that he’s willing to fight for his principles. The wealthy liberal is serving his third term, but it’s nonconsecutive—elected in 2008, he was defeated in 2010 and then returned to Congress in the 2012 election.
How big a threat to Murphy is Grayson? That’s a tough call. There’s not a great deal of good polling in the race. Several earlier polls showed a close race. A poll in early July from Gravis Marketing showed Grayson leading Murphy by an astonishing 63-19 margin. It’s probably best not to put too much stock in that result—it’s early, it’s an outlier, and Gravis’s track record is, um, not sterling.
But Grayson has one big advantage: He’s willing to say anything. In particular, he’ll deliver inflammatory quotes left and right about anything and anyone, allowing him to effectively tap into the Democratic id. Or in his own, typically modest words, “Voters will crawl naked over hot coals to vote for me. And that’s something that no other candidate in either party can say.” That also means he has strong fundraising potential from the grassroots, though he’s also independently wealthy. His act might play well in a Democratic primary, but could he win a general election in a purple state? The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee seems unconvinced. The DSCC praised Murphy in a statement when Grayson officially entered the race last week, but didn’t even mention Grayson’s name.
Doonesbury — Hotter than ever.